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Can You Open an Airplane Door During Flight?

Stairs leading up to an airplane door.
Nose of commercial airplane.
Airplane door from the inside of the plane.
An airplane in flight.
A skydiving plane with the door open.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 31 July 2014
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Due to differences in air pressure, it is usually not in fact possible to open an airplane door during flight at normal cruising altitudes, despite what you may have seen in the movies. This goes for all doors of an aircraft, including emergency exit and main doors; you could fuss with the opening mechanism as much as you like, but you wouldn't ultimately be successful. Interfering with the operation of an aircraft is a criminal offense in some regions, however, so you may be penalized for touching the door during flight.

Commercial aircraft have pressurized cabins to facilitate passenger comfort and so that the oxygen level in the cabin can be easily controlled. Without a pressurized cabin, passengers would need to wear oxygen masks, and they might get physically uncomfortable at high altitude. The difference in pressure between the inside of a plane and the outside essentially seals the doors of an aircraft even without latching, although most planes have pressurized seals as well, for safety. If you tried to open an airplane door during flight, you would find that you would not be strong enough to overcome the pressure differential.

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In emergency situations, pilots bring planes to lower altitudes and slowly depressurize the cabin so that the doors of the aircraft can be quickly opened. Passengers sometimes notice rapid pressure equalization because their ears may pop due to quick changes in pressure. Should a plane suddenly lose pressure at altitude, as has happened, oxygen masks drop from the ceiling so that passengers do not pass out from lack of oxygen. In these circumstances, it would be possible to open the door during flight, although it wouldn't be a particularly smart move.

The cargo sections of planes may not always be pressurized, which means that cargo doors can come open during flight. Since people aren't usually in the cargo bay, the risk of this occurrence is minimal, unless a cargo door malfunctions, as happened in 1989 on a United Airlines flight to Hawaii. Specialized aircraft such as planes used for skydiving obviously remain unpressurized so that the doors of the aircraft can be opened, allowing people to jump out.

Numerous safety measures are in place on aircraft to prevent catastrophic accidents when flying at high altitude. Cabin doors are an excellent example of what is known as redundant safety mechanisms, a series of mechanisms which are used to ensure that it is impossible to open an airplane door during flight, even if one mechanism fails. It is important to pay attention to safety lectures of videos on board aircraft, since you may need to know how to open the cabin door in an emergency landing, and different planes have different procedures.

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Discuss this Article

anon960651
Post 31

"not in fact possible to open an airplane door during flight at normal cruising altitudes." This is totally false.

First, not all aircraft door open inward, but many do open outward.

Second, doors are armed during flight which means they have power assist so they can open with any human effort in a fraction of second during an emergency.

Third, the pressurization will just help explode the door out as soon is a gap opening from the door seal. I'm a flight attendant.

anon945551
Post 30

Can't believe this article says some cargo sections are not pressurized. It would be an engineering/structural nightmare to have some fuselage sections pressurized and others not.

anon942127
Post 29

DB Cooper slowed the plane down and switched off depressurisation before jumping. He got away with it, i.e., he wasn't an idiot like you suggesting.

anon277885
Post 27

Did anyone ever check to see if a DB Cooper suspect had a sudden loss in hearing after 11/24/71?

anon266446
Post 26

Can anyone let me know what small business jet would have the capacity to allow someone to move into a cargo hold position mid flight decompress this space and release a HALO jumper from the rear and then close the doors again from the cockpit?

anon256904
Post 25

As of a few years ago, the FAA has a certification requirement that with a pressure differential of 2 psi or more, the operating mechanism of a door on an air carrier aircraft must require a pull on the handle of 300 lbs or more to operate.

When the pressure differential is reduced to 1/2 psi or less, the door must be able to be operated by an FAA defined 5 percent woman. I was working on the design of door mechanisms for a new regional jet at the time.

anon138329
Post 22

i found a small airplane door today shoveling snow in minnesota. not sure from what, but a piper 46 crashed 65 miles north. but from the sounds of it the plane never made it this far south. Any thoughts?

anon110341
Post 19

RE the flight attendant posts:

This is why you are a flight attendant, and not a rocket scientist!!

The force of gravity? wow, you don't know what you are talking about. It is the force of air pressure. I am a Boeing engineer, and no, there is no way to open the door at cruise altitudes because of the pressure difference.

anon106911
Post 18

You would never be able to open an aircraft door during flight because of the speed the aircraft is going, and throwing people out of planes on movies is a load of crap.

In real life, you, along with most objects and people inside the cabin/galley, would get sucked out due to the force of gravity. Common sense! But we flight attendants are trained to open aircraft doors whilst in flight! It's simple: descend lower and lower when the aircraft has slowed down and is low enough to allow objects to remain inside the aircraft you can open the door.

Do not attempt it because you will be arrested or you, along with the hundreds of other souls on board could die as the gravity (force) will get inside the cabin and start pulling the aircraft faster toward the ground!

anon89023
Post 17

So, two doubts:

1. In a standard aircraft, let´s say a 737, can I open the door during T/O or APP maneuvers?

2. What is the altitude, where a normal man could not open the door due to air pressure differences?

anon79691
Post 16

To Eastwest: What, you believe the movies are real? lol

anon76866
Post 15

well it has happened in practice. A man jumped to his death from a king air 200 at 21000 ft in northern Canada in April 2009.

anon62709
Post 14

Regarding the 727 back door, the cabin has always had a pressurized aft cabin door. The airplane must be depressurized before you can even gain access to the aft stair door. That door is in an unpressurized area.

Cargo doors are plug type! There are door stops that plug it solid. The ones that open outward require the locks to retract to undo the plug effect.

anon51038
Post 13

I can't afford the medicine I need so I was going to devote my life to jumping out of people's planes for a year or more. I guess you could jump out of small planes but you'd probably hit the tail or something. Does anybody know about small planes and hitting the tail?

anon46551
Post 12

Plug doors are used on pretty much all modern large airliners. In smaller planes they use other systems. In the Boeing 727, the door in the rear of the plane could be opened. It was kind of like the pull down stairs to an attic. This changed after a hijacking where the hijacker (known as "D.B. Cooper") used the rear exit to parachute from the plane. After that, a latch was designed that locks the rear door whenever the plane is in flight.

sgbfishman
Post 8

Thanks to anon29914 for explaining that the aircraft doors are "plug" doors. That makes all the difference. If they were regular doors, the pressure outside of the plane would be less than the pressure in the interior, and the doors would open easily. In fact, it would require special mechanisms to keep the doors shut! I assume that those mechanisms are used in the cargo areas.

anon31562
Post 7

How dare they cheat on us the viewers with fake door opening on the air. I am going to sue them all. hehe :) Nice article, Thanks for the information. :)

anon31534
Post 5

How do people sky dive and parachute from

airplanes then?

anon31532
Post 4

Outside pressure is lower at cruise altitudes.

anon29914
Post 3

Being a plug door, the entire thing has to be pulled inside, rotated on its hinge and then swung back out through the opening. Smaller aircraft (eg many light bizjets and turboprops) don't feature this door type.

The reason cargo doors can blow open is not because the cargo bay isn't pressurized. It is pressurized - it's far easier to maintain the entire fuselage as a single pressure capsule than it is to design in such a massive pressure differential between the pax/baggage compartments along the entire pax floor. The reason the cargo door can open is because it *isn't a plug door.* It simply opens outwards - so while the pax cabin doors use pressure to their advantage, the cargo doors must resist it. Fail safe locking mechanisms are therefore required.

The UA aircraft wasn't going to Hawaii. It had departed Hawaii and was en route to Auckland.

eastwest
Post 2

It's so cheating what they show in the movies! People are always opening airplane doors to toss someone or something out, no matter how high up they are!

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